The review published below is the unedited copy of the review published at Dawn.com
Divergent – Starring Lackluster Romance in Future Dystopia
“Divergent”, the first of the confirmed trilogy by author Veronica Roth, is adamant on playing it safe by using two of the most trending selling points in films today: future dystopia and a gutsy female lead.
However, despite being born from the same idea pool, Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) is no Katniss Everdeen, and “Divergent” is no “Hunger Games”.
A Little Background First…
The selfless go to Abnegation; Amity are peaceful and hardworking; Candor, who look like lawyers, are the truthful; Erudite are intelligent; and Dauntless are the brave ones – the future police, if you may.
Tris is from Abnegation, but is in awe of Dauntless, a faction who unfortunately in the translation from book to screen look like happy, carefree, scampering monkeys (they run in packs, and clamber up on anything vertical, from lampposts to buildings).
Tris, however, is a Divergent – someone who can be a part of any class – and that makes her a threat to this future’s social set-up, where family comes after factions. Tris, who is told to keep mum about her Divergent status, is told to meekly join Abnegation in the factions choosing ceremony. She chooses Dauntless, and the screenplay (by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor) turns from ho-hum to boring in a matter of minutes.
Tris, and the other fresh “initiates”, are tested physically and psychologically by their unsympathetic teachers Eric (Jai Courtney) and Four (Theo James), for a good amount of the movie’s running time, meanwhile a conspiracy brews in the background.
And So, “Divergent” Turns Bad to Worse
For a movie targeting young-adults, and especially the female demographic, “Divergent” is pretty compliant – a characteristic it shares with Ms. Woodley’s Tris.
Ms. Woodley, who has done excellent work in “The Descendants”, has a captivating screen aura which helps sustain a decent balance of severity in “Divergent”. Regrettably, given the limited confines of her character, and the uneventful story reveals, she feels like a delicate, ill-fitting cog in a high-priced machine that wants her to kick-butt like a super-heroine while sustaining a feeling of fragility. On the screen, it looks like a sad combination.
Even Ms. Woodley’s imminent romance with Mr. James – one of the selling points of “Divergent” – is spark-less.
Director Neil Burger, who made an excellent impression in “Limitless”, is as awkward as Ms. Woodley, concentrating either on wooshing camera angles, or stoic scenes of conversation held mostly in the bunker-esque production design by Andy Nicholson (“Gravity”).
As always, future dystopia, even with its technological advancements, looks bleak and minimalist. The railways function well (the speeding trains are a character themselves), but the emotionless social structure in “Divergent” has a faux ambiance to it.
And Kate Winslet, who plays Jeanine an Erudite leader, reminds me of Jodie Foster from “Elysium” – a fine actress demoted to pitiless, clichéd, playacting.
The Final Word
I don’t know about Ms. Ross’ novel, however there is serious disconnect in “Divergent’s” screenplay. The stereotypes in Tris, Four, Jeannine and others, are at times obviously broad-stroked, and the gravity of being born a Divergent – or why they pose such an imminent threat to society – is never explained with conviction.
But by the end of the movie, I for one don’t give a hoot.
Released by Summit Entertainment, “Divergent” is rated PG-13 for scenes of action, dystopian drama.
Directed by Neil Burger; Produced by Douglas Wick, Lucy Fisher and Pouya Shahbazian; Written by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor (based on the book by Veronica Roth); Cinematography by Alwin Küchler; Edited by Richard Francis-Bruce and Nancy Richardson; Music by Junkie XL and Hans Zimmer; Production Design by Andy Nicholson.
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller, Tony Goldwyn, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q, Mekhi Phifer and Kate Winslet.